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Council members grow restless with oversight

| Thursday, March 30, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

Frustrated City Council members are clamoring for a review of Pittsburgh's finances to decide whether it's time to end state-run recovery efforts.

The council tentatively approved a resolution Wednesday that asks state Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky to consider ending the city's financially distressed status. A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

The city's financial difficulties led Gov. Ed Rendell to declare Pittsburgh financially distressed in December 2003. Two oversight boards were established as a result: an Act 47 recovery team and the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority.

"All I want to know from Act 47 and Dennis Yablonsky is, what is your plan?" said Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle. "All (the resolution) says is, let us know where we stand and why."

Carlisle sponsored the resolution, which was written by Firefighters Local 1, the union that represents city firefighters. Firefighters would have an easier time negotiating favorable contracts if Yablonsky lifts the city's distressed status.

One of the overseers shot down council's plea.

"Is it time for Act 47 to leave, and is it time for the ICA to leave• My answer is no. I think they'll both be very important to Pittsburgh for the next three to four years," said John Murray, chairman of the state oversight board.

If council proceeds with its request, a public hearing would be held before Yablonsky makes his decision, DCED spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

Act 47 requires municipalities to complete a year with a positive budget balance, Ortiz said. Yablonsky's ruling wouldn't affect the ICA, which is governed separately under state Act 11.

Councilman Bill Peduto, who joined Council President Luke Ravenstahl in voting against the resolution, said the city must establish a three-year track record that shows revenues exceeding expenses to prove that it deserves to be free of state oversight.

"The best analogy I can make is that we were rushed to the emergency room a few years ago; we're still on the table, the catheter is still in, and we're wanting to jump off because we feel good. I think we need to stay in the hospital a couple years more in order to get whole," he said.

B.J. Leber, chief of staff for Mayor Bob O'Connor, said the mayor wanted council to delay a vote on the resolution until after today's scheduled public hearing on the city's 2006 budget. The budget still needs council's approval.

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